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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 8, 2009
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Race for European Parliament
April 8, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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This year's elections for the European Parliament, Poland's second since the country entered the European Union, will be an important popularity test for Polish political parties ahead of local government and presidential elections next year and parliamentary elections in 2011. All the main parties are trying to attract the most recognizable candidates to run on their tickets for the European Parliament.

Even former President Lech Wałęsa, a man not easily surprised by political twists and turns, has expressed his astonishment that the ruling coalition party, the Civic Platform (PO), has chosen as one of its candidates Marian Krzaklewski, former leader of Solidarity Election Action (AWS), which governed Poland in 1997-2001. AWS then suffered a crushing defeat in the next election and failed to make it into parliament. Many politicians and commentators blamed Krzaklewski, who had controlled the AWS government of Jerzy Buzek from behind the scenes.

Interestingly, in the 2004 election for the European Parliament, Buzek received the largest number of votes in Poland, although he had been criticized as prime minister. Today, Buzek is a viable candidate for the post of president of the European Parliament. In Silesia province, where he is to run on the PO ticket, he is supported by more than 60 percent of the electorate, according to recent polls. Sociologist Marek Migalski, on the Silesian ticket of the largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), ranks second, with less than 20 percent.

Will Krzaklewski, a sworn enemy of liberalism in the past, be a credible candidate for the PO in Podkarpacie province? Wałęsa believes Krzaklewski is a strange choice of candidate, to say the least. But opinion surveys show that Krzaklewski is in the lead and may gain 25 percent of the vote in Podkarpacie.

To justify the choice, Donald Tusk, the PO leader and prime minister, said Krzaklewski has extensive experience in labor law and trade union activity, and is a regular visitor at many European institutions.

Until recently, PiS claimed it would be promoting candidates associated with individual regions rather than fielding the most popular deputies and politicians. Zbigniew Ziobro, former justice minister in a PiS government, who enjoys enormous popularity in Cracow, was supposed to be the party's only high-ranking politician to run for the European Parliament. But recent decisions suggest the party has changed its strategy. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński said in late March that Jacek Kurski and Paweł Kowal will also be allowed to run. Kurski is a PiS deputy very active in the media and parliament while Kowal, a former deputy foreign minister, is rated among PiS's top specialists in international affairs. The decision to field them is a signal for the political world that recognizable candidates are becoming a must in the race for seats in the European Parliament.

Surveys show that the Polish People's Party (PSL), the junior partner in the ruling coalition, has a chance of winning only in Kujawy-Pomerania province. Eugeniusz Kłopotek, one of the best known PSL politicians, enjoys the support of around 22 percent of the local electorate. The PO candidate in the province, Tadeusz Zwiefka, who is currently a European Parliament member, has a similar rating.

It is difficult to assess the election chances of the left wing, which is divided into several dueling parties. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) candidate in Warsaw, Wojciech Olejniczak, the former party leader and a former popular agriculture minister, seems to have a slim chance against candidates fielded by larger parties, especially against Danuta Hübner, the EU commissioner for regional development. Although she was once a minister in a left-wing government, Hübner accepted PO's proposal to run on its ticket. The situation of Olejniczak and the SLD is even more difficult considering that Dariusz Rosati, a former foreign minister, is running in Warsaw as another left-wing candidate, on the ticket of the Alliance for the Future. As a result, the left-wing vote may be split between the two candidates, to the detriment of each.

Another likely winner in Warsaw is Michał Kamiński, a senior official in the Polish President's office and a former member of the European Parliament. His MEP colleague, Adam Bielan, will be in first place on PiS's ticket in Mazovia province.

Róża Thun, head of the European Commission Representation in Poland and a PO candidate in the election, will be competing against Ziobro in Cracow. In Warsaw, Hübner will be supported on the PO ticket by Paweł Zalewski, former deputy leader of PiS who was removed from the party by its leader Jarosław Kaczyński.

The controversial Libertas movement of Declan Ganley, a euroskeptical Irish millionaire, is not likely to score a success in Poland. But Ganley has already managed to evade an important Polish electoral provision that bans foreign funding for parties and other organizations running in elections. He has guaranteed a loan for Libertas Polska, the Polish arm of Libertas. The move provides an opportunity for Polish euroskeptics, including former PiS deputy Adam Zawisza, to conduct an election campaign.

A big question mark is what the turnout will be. In 2004, less than 21 percent of Polish voters participated in the election for the European Parliament. Some researchers suggest the turnout will be even lower this year. But that would not be bad news for well-known candidates. Political scientists have observed that in elections with low turnouts, those who do vote tend to choose the popular figures in the top places on the largest election lists.
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